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Words from Asian Languages

When English-speaking people—mainly the British—began to trade with the Indian subcontinent and the Far East, it was necessary to find words for many things never before encountered, whether foods, plants, animals, clothing, or events. Many words that were borrowed from Asian languages as a result of trade have become well established in English, and the process continues today. It is difficult to find reliable patterns to help you spell these words because they were borrowed at different times by different people.

Tips from the Top

Most of the words from various Asian languages were introduced into English by people who spoke English. Therefore, if you aren't familiar with a word and don't know any rules for spelling words from its language of origin, as a last resort you might try spelling it the way a speaker of English who is an untrained speller would spell it. In other words, use the letters you would use if the spelling were completely up to you!

Another approach that is sometimes useful is to spell a borrowed word or part of a borrowed word in the way that an English word you already know with similar sounds is spelled. This approach would work for spelling mongoose, for example.

Now You Try

  1. 1. One sound is spelled with the same double vowel in six of the words from Asian languages. What sound is that, and how is it spelled?

    The sound is \\ and is spelled with oo in oolong, mongoose, shampoo, typhoon, loot, and bamboo.

  2. 2. The long e sound (\ē\) is spelled ee in dungaree and rupee. Name three other ways it is spelled in the words from Asian languages.

    The long e (\ē\) is spelled with y (in cushy and gunnysack), ey (in chutney), and i (in basmati, batik, gourami, jiva, and Holi).

  3. 3. Why do you think bungalow is spelled with a w at the end? (Hint: See Tips from the Top.)

    Bungalow probably got a w on the end because many other English words that have the same final sound end in ow: flow, glow, blow, stow, etc.